MBA Programs in Arts Management Take Center Stage

Some business schools have created courses that appeal to leaders of artistic and cultural institutions

As a theatre artist who loves an Excel spreadsheet, Michael Fleischman has known for a long time that her goal was to work in the arts and nonprofit sector. Yet finding a way into these industries has been difficult, especially with the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on arts and nonprofit organizations.

So when she stumbled on a Facebook post about the Masters Program in Arts and Creative Enterprise Leadership at the Wisconsin School of Business of the US back in 2020, she knew the program would be a way to further her career ambition. “With the world in upheaval, why not? I had long been looking for a place I could be multi-faceted without having to extol one ability over another in order to fit in,” she says.

As part of the unique masters program, Fleischman is working an internship with ARTS for ALL Wisconsin, where she assists in development and grant-writing. “In class I learn about exciting ways to manage healthy and productive arts organizations,” she says.

Fusing arts training with business

The Wisconsin School launched the MA in Arts and Creative Enterprise Leadership last year, which mirrors the MBA curriculum with one crucial difference: it fuses arts training with business. Students build on their creative skills and strategic abilities to become an arts administrator, nonprofit executive or social entrepreneur. They have the option to complete a one-year internship with an arts organization, as Fleischman has done.

The Wisconsin School has offered an MBA in Arts Administrator for more than four decades, but has ended admissions to the program, with the final cohort set to graduate in 2023. Business schools have struggled to appeal to leaders of artistic and cultural institutions, because of a belief that their challenges are different to the investment bankers and management consultants who typically fill MBA classrooms.

But some institutions have created MBA courses tailored to people who wish to enter the arts, such as the Schulich School of Business in Canada. It runs a joint MBA and Master of Fine Art degree, with School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design at York University in Toronto.

The curriculum covers the visual arts, theatre, film and dance along with the management issues and practices facing arts organizations. Kenneth Rogers, co-director of the joint degree at Schulich, says Covid increased the pressure on arts institutions, and raised the importance of business, finance and management skills to the sector’s survival.

“In some cases Covid has increased pressure on art institutions, in other cases it has accelerated the rate of change in an already present trend, or even created an opportunity for growth and expansion,” he says. “But perhaps Covid has shone a light on just how crucial the business side of the arts is for many institutions’ long-term survival.”

Rogers says that many people working in the sector who unexpectedly find themselves in a business or management role have a background in creative practice and require more formal training in business to advance in their organization. “Our program is there to provide an advanced course of study specialized in the creative and cultural industries to prepare a new generation of arts leadership,” he adds.

According to Rogers, the arts have very specific sets of knowledge in finance, regulation, legal frameworks, the regulatory environment, cultural policy, labor and workforce development, strategy and marketing.

“Our degree prepares students for a broad range of positions in the creative industries, in fields such as broadcasting, film and television, digital and social media, visual and studio arts, music, games, entertainment, and not-for-profit arts and social enterprise organizations,” he adds.

MBA programs addressing key challenges for the creative industry

Today’s MBA programs in the arts have been designed to address the key challenges for creative institutions, which include: the acceleration of digital disruption, resource scarcity, and the urgent need for action around equity, diversity, and inclusivity throughout creative sector.

Today more than ever, professors say these organizations need skilled, resourceful administrators and managers in leadership roles. That’s why the Cox School of Business and the Meadows School for the Arts, at Southern Methodist University, have teamed up to offer two-year joint MBA/MA degree in Business and Arts Management.

The program can be taken either full-time or part-time, and combines course content in both business and the arts, in addition to internships with arts organizations facing unique challenges. Graduates are prepared for a broad array of leadership roles in the arts, entertainment, education or nonprofit sectors.

Ultimately, you need more than a deep appreciation for the arts to succeed in the sector, and an MBA can help get you there.

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